THE NEWS FROM SPANN HILL
“A Historical Look At A Wayne County Community” —Harlan Ogle
Scattered throughout Wayne County, Kentucky are scores of small communities with names that are derived from family surnames, bodies of water, geographical landmarks, children, churches, schools, and many from unknown origins.
Originally these communities were isolated from one another and not much traveling was done out of the communities. Each of the communities provided almost everything the residents needed for daily survival. Each had its own school, church, source of social interaction, and country store. Neighbors were always willing to help each other to construct barns and homes and to harvest their crops.
One such community in Wayne County, Kentucky is Spann Hill. J.J Denney wrote: “Spann Hill is a long, sprawling, ridge located a few miles east of Monticello. From beneath this elevated plateau flow the beginning of the following streams: Rolly Creek, Meadow Creek, Dry Fork of Big Sinking Creek, Elk Springs Creek, and Fall Creek.”
One writer said: “Spann Hill is 1,450 feet above sea level. You have a feeling of being on top of the world in a seemingly solitary and pleasant environment.”
The Long Hunters are said to have made their camp at the Sloan Spring on Meadow Creek in 1770. Following these hunters came the Sloans, Dodsons, Davises, and Wrights who settled in the valleys surrounding what is now known as Spann Hill. (The community derives its name from John Spann.)
These early settlers looked at the hill as an obstacle in their path across the county. They built and followed existing trails across the hill and in 1812, Elisha Kidd cleared a plot of land and built a house on the hill. It would be almost one hundred years before there was a permanent community on the hill.
“The first coal mine on Spann Hill was the Sloan Mine of 1840, where slaves did all the work.”
“Originally the entire Spann area was forested with first-class commercial timber.”
“In 1903, the Emery Oil Company drilled a well on the land of Jack Hughes. Immediately following this, oil rigs sprang up all over the hill and the surrounding country. The wells were producing large quantities of oil and Spann Hill became a beehive of activity. People came in large numbers to work in the oil fields, farms were cleared, roads laid out, and the community grew up in an amazingly short time.”
George Spann opened a store and post office in 1906. Two years later in 1908, the Central Union Church was built. It housed the Baptist and the Methodist churches.
In 1924, J.M. and Jenette Dodson deeded an acre of land to the county School Board for the location of a school on Spann Hill. Zella Davis became the first school teacher in the school.
In 1930 Robert M. Glendinning, a professor at the University of Michigan, wrote a most interesting account of the Spann Hill community as it existed at that time. He says that in 1930, Spann Hill consisted of “…a general store, post-office, Methodist church, an eight-grade one-room school and some twenty scattered dwellings. Its population numbers seventy-five…Automobiles can reach the Spann ridge by way of the Steubenville road, but only at great cost to engine and springs. Beyond the Spann ridge travel is limited to foot, mule-back or mule team. Spann boasts but three automobiles, a dilapidated Ford truck and two light touring cars. A single telephone wire leads from Monticello to Spann; it was found to be working once in a period of seven weeks. There are no radios and the nearest telegraph is at Burnside.”
A study of the history of Spann Hill shows clearly that coal, timber, oil, the church, the store/post office, and the school were the defining elements in the life of the residents on the hill.
Even though the glory days of oil, coal, and timber were soon depleted, there remained, through the years, a close-knit community on Spann Hill. The school closed years ago and the post office and store have been long gone, however, the church (now known as Spann Hill Baptist Church) still exist to serve the remaining residents of the hill.
Those who continued to make their home on Spann Hill were progressive people and were interested in other Wayne Countians knowing about their existence. They also wanted to expand their knowledge of their distant neighbors.
In 1904 the popular Wayne County newspaper, The Wayne County OUTLOOK, began publication and it provided a great opportunity for the people of Spann Hill to share their good life with other people in the county.
The OUTLOOK solicited “reporters” to write weekly articles about what was happening in their communities. Many residents in the different communities responded to the call and submitted news of the people in their respective communities.
As early as 1908 some unknown “reporter” from Spann Hill wrote news under the heading, “SPANN NEWS.” Over the next few years there were probably several “reporters” who accepted the responsibility of submitting new of Spann Hill to the OUTLOOK.
The person most associated with “SPANN NEWS” is Grace Dawes. She wrote the news for over fifty years.
Mrs. Dawes passed away in 1995, leaving behind a great history of the people and activities of Spann Hill. The Wayne County Museum has obtained many of the articles she wrote and has published them in a book entitled THE NEWS FROM SPANN HILL. Overall, they provide a narrative of the history of the community. People are mentioned by name. Birthdays, anniversaries, revival meetings, school activities, community visitors, deaths, births, and other items of interest make up the content of the “SPANN NEWS.” They provide a wonderful depiction of daily life in this small Wayne County community.
The children of Mrs. Dawes; Mae (Daws) Dick, Betty (Daws) Tucker, and Beecher Daws provided tremendous assistance in the publication of the book.
Mae (Daws) Dick said: “As a young child growing up in our home, some of my earliest memories of Mama were seeing her writing (on whatever piece of paper was laying around) and reading. During a lot of Mama’s lifetime, the only means of knowing what was happening in other communities of the county was by reading the Wayne County OUTLOOK; so, at our house the day the newspaper came in the mail was a big day for Mama. After my husband and I were married and moved away, Mama always made sure we subscribed to the OUTLOOK and kept up with the happenings on Span Hill and surrounding communities.”
The history of Spann Hill is the history of Monticello and Wayne County. All historians and genealogists will find the museum publication of great value. The book contains scores of Mrs. Dawes’ articles and those written earlier. There are maps of the community showing homes, school and church locations, oil wells, roads, stores, and post office. The complete narrative by Robert M. Glendinning with some old photographs is also included. There are scores of photographs of the Dawes family and even some of the Spann family. The inclusion of Dawes famly obituaries will be of particular interest to genealogists. The book contains almost 200 pages and will prove to be interesting, amusing, and educational to all who read it.
Copies of THE NEWS FROM SPANN HILL can be purchased at the museum gift shop or ordered by calling the museum at 606-340-2300.